Ratcliffe Highway in London (Prostitution)

I was doing a search about jobs of women in the 17th century London and came across this site talking about women being prostitutes and I read a little of it and ran across this song that I thought was really funny. You will find the lyrics later in this post. Check it out. lol

During the 17th century, the most notorious area for prostitution in the port was Ratcliffe Highway. This was a road lying to the north of the Wapping waterfront.

It was described in 1600 by John Stow as ‘a continual street, or filthy straight passage, with alleys of small tenements or cottages builded, inhabited by sailors and victuallers’.

Sailors from ships moored in the Pool of London flocked to the Highway. Most were single men with plenty of cash to spare after long voyages. They were looking for drink and women, and the taverns and brothels along its length provided for their every need.


Songs and shanties were written in celebration of the Highway. This bawdy example is actually called ‘The Ratcliffe Highway’.

As I wuz a roll-in’ down the High-way one morn,
I spied a flash pack-et from ol’ Wapping town
As soon as I seed her I slacked me main brace,
An’ I hoist-ed me stun-sl’s an’ to her gave chase,

Oh, me rig-gin’s slack, Aye me ratt-lin’s are fray’d,
I’ve ratt-led me rig-gin’ down Rat-cliffe High-way!

Her flag wuz three colours, her masthead wuz low,
She wuz round at the counter an’ bluff at the bow;
From larboard to starboard an’ so rolled she,
She wuz sailin’ at large, she wuz runnin’ free.

I fired me bow-chaser, the signal she new
She backed her main tops’l an’ for me hove to’
I lowered down me jolly-boat an’ roved alongside,
An’ I found madam’s gangway wuz open an’ wide.

I hailed her in English, she answered me clear,
“I’m from the Black Arrow bound to the Shakespeare”;
So I wore ship wid a what d’yer know,
An’ I passed her me hawser an’ took her in tow.

I entered her little cabin, an’ swore, “Damn your eyes!”
She wuz nothin’ but a fireship rigged up in disguise;
She had a foul bottom, from sternpost to fore;
‘Tween the wind and water she ran me ashore.

She set fire to me riggin’, as well as me hull,
An’ away to the lazareet I had to scull.
Wid me helm hard-a-starboard as I rolled along,
Me shipmates cried, “Hey, Jack, yer mainyard is sprung!”

Now I’m safe in harbour, me moorings all fast,
I lay here quite snug, boys, till all danger is past;
With me mainyard all served, boys, an’ parcelled an’ tarred,
Wasn’t that a stiff breeze, boys, that sprung me mainyard?


Published in: on May 23, 2011 at 8:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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